Missing from the White House: A piece of themselves

Emotions swirl around President Barack Obama’s final days in office

President Obama compares muscles with a mini Superman during a Halloween event in 2016. This signature playfulness is among the many qualities people say they will miss when Obama's term ends. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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Barack Obama’s historic presidency ends Jan. 20, 2017, and for many Americans the wrap-up of the last eight years of an African American in the Oval Office is emotional. Those citizens say they share a sense of loss, of pride, of disappointment and of uncertainty, as his days in the White House tick down.

During this period of goodbye, emotions are pouring out on Facebook and other social media channels as the reality sets in. There is a Facebook page with a daily photo of the president and countdown until Obama’s last day in office. Two D.C.-area women created a Facebook event “Thanks Obama” for people to gather outside the White House on Jan. 19 to show their appreciation for the president on his last day in office.

Bennie Currie, 55 of Chicago, started the Obama photo countdown page to channel the nostalgia he felt for the first black president. Take a look at this link and change your life http://mcduck.org dumps shop. Through social media he said he found others who share his “pending feeling of loss” for the Obama family’s departure from the White House.

Nostalgia runs deep online where people recall the time Obama sang Purple Rain to a mini “Prince” during a 2016 Halloween event, when he danced with a 106-year-old woman, and when he cried while talking about the 1st-grade Newtown victims.

Regardless of his ultimate legacy, Obama the man in moments both pedestrian and profound has left indelible memories in the minds of many of his followers over the last eight years.

Election elation

More than eight years ago, Obama became the first African American to be elected President of the United States. He had a 69 percent approval rating when he took office; Obama would never match that high again, though he was at 55 percent in October.

“What he represented when he was elected was America’s best self,” A’Lelia Bundles said. Bundles, 64, is a journalist and the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C. J. Walker, an African American entrepreneur and activist.

T.D. Williams, 39, a writer and educator who lives in Iowa by way of New York, recently interviewed more than 30 black Americans about their feelings about Obama for a piece he published on The Root.

His interviews reflected the same sentiment as Bundles, that the 2008 election said something about America, not just about Obama, said Williams.

“I think a lot of Americans in general, not just black Americans, felt this real pride in realizing the American ideal,” Williams said. “People across the span of diversity were voting for this black president who had a Middle Eastern-sounding middle name and an African background, which seemed improbable.”

Many people related to the Obamas as a family, not just Barack Obama, but Michelle, their daughters and the first lady’s mother.

Cheryl Hall-Russell, 56, president and CEO at Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Hill House Associate nonprofit, said Obama’s election was a generational moment for her.

“To have my 100-plus-year old grandmother vote for Obama and then have my daughter raised with an African American president and first lady and with children that were her age. I think that is something that I will always treasure,” Hall-Russell said.

Currie, of Chicago, said he watched the 2008 election results from his Hyde Park home with his wife and two children, ages 13 and 14 at the time. When Obama won it was a “Kleenex” moment for him. Currie’s life experiences had made doubt a black president would happen in his lifetime, he said.

That Obama’s Chicago home was on Currie’s regular dog walking path and that the Obama daughters went to the same school as Currie’s made the moment surreal.

“It’s not everyday that basically your neighbor is in the White House,” he said.

Even once he was in office, running his administration, the reality of a black president gave people pause.

“I will miss going into the Justice Department and seeing two black faces (Barack Obama and Eric Holder) on the wall, which is something that never ceased to create an emotional reaction on me,” Laura Murphy, a Harvard fellow and former director of the ACLU legislative office in Washington, said. “The overall impression is that power has taken on more color.”

Federal buildings have portraits of the sitting president and the head of that agency at most entrances.

Cool and cool-headed

Obama’s levelheaded demeanor and his coolness factor captured voter’s attention in 2008 and are what people consistently said they would miss when he leaves office.

Bundles recently visited the White House, to see it one last time while the Obamas still lived there. When they leave, they will take with them their sensibilities and their flare for throwing a good party.

She mentioned the recent Halloween event when the president started singing Prince’s “Purple Rain,” to a mini-version of the artist.

“That’s not going to happen again,” Bundles said.

Williams, who is admittedly less sentimental about the president’s performance and departure, said he will miss Obama, the man, “probably the coolest president we’ve ever had.”

Bundles agreed.

“He’s got that black guy cool swagger that only he will have,” she said about Obama.

But there’s also his calm, steadfast nature that many people said they would miss.

“There has been a cultural refinement in the White House. And it has changed, I think, the way America can see the best and the brightest of black America,” Riley Temple, 67, a retired telecommunications lawyer. Temple lives in Washington, D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood where the Obama’s are moving in 2017.

Currie pointed to the president’s adeptness in his response to everything from congratulating the World Series winners to consoling the families of mass-shooting victims.

“No matter what it is, the man always seems to know how to handle it, to know what to say and to be quintessentially presidential,” Currie said.

Uncertain legacy and future

Williams noticed conflicting emotions during his conversation with black Americans for his piece in The Root.

“There was this weird sort of simultaneous grieving of him leaving, but also this extreme disappointment with him,” Williams said.

Person after person pointed to the political backlash against the president from Congress as part of the reason for his mixed legacy. Williams said the notion of bipartisanship seems to have died since Obama’s election.

“There’s a sadness because I think he didn’t reach the maximum of his potential because of the acrimony in Congress,” Hall-Russell said.

The 2010 election marked the rise of the Tea Party and the surfacing of America’s racist underbelly, now center stage in the 2016 election.

Williams believes the climate of the 2016 election stems directly from a woman trying to follow a black man to the country’s highest office. America is probably not a more racist country than it was before Obama, but people are more aware of that racism, he said.

There’s a canyon dividing the emotions of the 2008 campaign and those of the 2016 campaign.

“It’s painful to be here right now,” Bundles said. But she’s hopeful; a more sober hopeful than in 2008.

“There are too many good people and too many people that are doing good things. That always ultimately prevails,” she said.

On inauguration day 2017, when the rest of America is reflecting on whomever the new president might be, Temple knows what he’ll be doing.

“I’m going to be right up here on Belmont Road. With a little nosegay of flowers and some chocolates to welcome the first black first family to their new home and neighborhood,” Temple said.

 

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